Announcing Apparel's 2010 Sustainability All-Star Award Winners

By Jordan K. Speer — June 09, 2010

Given that Apparel's second annual Sustainability All Stars program came on the heels of one of the most formidable recessions in current history, it is encouraging - and telling - to find that apparel companies did not abandon green  pursuits in the face of troubling economic times, but in fact used sustainability as a platform around which to build more innovative products and practices that offer more to the customer while also cutting waste out of their businesses - ultimately impacting the bottom and top lines.
 
Selected from an extremely competitive pool of nominations, our 2010 winners were chosen based not on specific criteria in particular categories, such as use of organic materials, energy policy, wastewater management, recycling initiatives or social issues, but for demonstrating a driving commitment toward making their businesses more sustainable in specific ways, and a plan to continue down that path.
 
While each of our winners has engaged in a sustainability program in its own way, all five of our winners have internalized the idea that sustainability is not a silo, confined to one product line or idea, but a philosophy that at its core is focused on making sure that the needs of business, people and the planet are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
 
Our winners are eliminating waste of all types from their supply chains while monitoring the raw materials that go into them, the manufacturing processes and the conditions of the people making their products. And in addition to taking a holistic, 30,000-foot-view of their enterprises, they are more committed than ever to setting specific goals and measuring their progress against them.
 
Today, as sustainability has become a top-of-mind issue no longer championed just by the burlap sack wearers but by suits at every level of an enterprise, companies want to ensure that there's a real net benefit to the environment, to people and to business. Establishing benchmarks and measurements not only fosters continual improvement and sustainable best practices within companies, but also more engagement and an open dialogue with consumers.
 
This year's winners were honored at the Sustainability All-Star Award ceremony on March 23 in Los Angeles at the annual Apparel Tech Conference West, held at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.
 
Apparel magazine is pleased to share the stories of our winners with you.
 
 
 
Cintas
Self-Nominated
 
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times. The success of any new business initiative is highly dependent upon receiving support from upper management, so it should be no surprise, then, that when the president of Cintas's troops behind the mission that is exactly what happened.
 
Global Accounts & Strategic Markets division, Bill Goetz, spearheaded an initiative to become a green leader and galvanized the division One of the division's major efforts has been in the development of eco-friendly uniform collections, particularly for the hospitality and healthcare industries, says Sarah Makiejus, divisional merchandise manager for Cintas Global Accounts & Strategic Markets.
 
In the realm of apparel products, uniforms might be said to pose an even greater challenge when it comes to being green, not only because of the additional performance functionality typically required, but because, more than other apparel, uniforms require repeated and frequent laundering after long days on the job.
 
Cintas' apparel division is meeting this challenge with a variety of collections focusing on these myriad issues. Its Regeneration Suiting Collection, for example, is comprised of coordinating tailored pieces made from 100 percent recycled polyester produced entirely from post consumer waste. To be precise, one single suit is made from approximately 25 recycled two-liter plastic bottles.
 
In bringing the product to market, Cintas partnered with its vendor, Bagir Group, to divert plastic bottles going to the landfill and process them into recycled fibers, a process that not only reduces landfill waste but also uses 66 percent less energy than required to manufacture virgin polyester fiber, uses 90 percent less water and helps eliminate harmful air emissions.
 
As for its care, the collection has been designed to be machine washable, a benefit to employees because of the lower associated cleaning costs and also to the earth because of the reduction of the use of harsh toxins employed in the dry cleaning process.
 
Cintas is also a charter member of the Laundry Environmental Stewardship Program (LaundryESP®), whose mission is to improve the environmental performance of the industrial laundry industry, and has also begun to transition companywide from a nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE)-based detergent (NPEs have been shown to have adverse effects on aquatic life when discharged into the environment) to one that is NPE-free.
 
In working to reduce its energy usage, the company is making significant strides through the use of heat re-claimers, energy efficient lighting, heat-air recycling and also through the use of modern moisture management technologies that allow garments to dry as much as 50 percent faster, thus spending less time in the dryer.
 
By condensing five-day routes into four-day routes and installing idle shut-off software on delivery trucks, Cintas is also reducing its fuel consumption, and in the area of recycling, it is finding ways to keep everything from cardboard and garment scraps to computers and printers out of the landfills.
 
Cintas is most well known for its role as "the uniform people," but the company also has several other divisions. As it has taken a holistic approach to sustainability across its apparel supply chain, examining not only material inputs but also energy and fuel use, wastewater treatment and chemical cleaners, so has it taken the green view across its multiple enterprises, including its cleaning businesses and document shredding business.
 
As an example of this, the company is recycling all of the paper that it shreds for its customers, which is being made into paper towels, tissues and other paper products. According to company reports, this saves 3.26 million trees from being cut down, prevents the filling of 575, 000 cubic yards of landfill space, and saves 383,000 barrels of oil and 1.35 billion gallons of water annually.
 
In its most recently announced green initiative, says Makiejus, the company will be launching a Closed Loop program, which will enable customers to bring back Cintas' new polo shirts to be recycled into other consumer products.
 
 
 
GoLite
Nominated by: OutsidePR
 
GoLite is a perfect representative of the results-oriented mindset that has gripped the sustainability movement. Taking to heart the oft-repeated phrase that you cannot manage - or improve - what you don't measure, the company has been diligent about setting goals and striving to meet them.
 
A manufacturer of lightweight, high performance, sustainable apparel and equipment for outdoor athletes, GoLite reports that it is committed to building a truly sustainable business, one that minimizes its environmental impacts and manufactures its products in socially responsible factories.
 
"Through our baseline footprint analysis in 2008, we know that greater than 60 percent of our climate impact is in the materials in our products. And that for every full-time GoLite employee, there are over 100 people working in our factories building our products," says Kim Coupounas, GoLite's chief sustainability officer and co-founder of the company.
"So these two areas - product impact mitigation and manufacturing our products in factories that are fair, safe and non-discriminatory - are at the core of our sustainability work."
 
In issuing its 2009 Sustainability Report, the company takes a comprehensive look at its environmental and social practices and footprint, laying the foundations of its multi-year, metrics-based path to sustainability, which, in striving for a sustainable business model demands that the company maintain or increase its stringent end-use and testing requirements with the result that GoLite actually improves product quality and technical performance as it moves forward.
 
"Long-term, our objective is to aim past neutrality towards becoming 'net positive' to environment and civilization across our entire value chain, a truly sustainable business," says Coupounas. "We don't have a 'green collection.' We are striving to address 100 percent of our products and 100 percent of our operations."

GoLite has made significant steps toward achieving goals that the company set in 2006, to be accomplished by year-end 2010. In fact, three of those goals were achieved a year ahead of schedule: using a majority of Environmentally Preferred Materials (EPMs) in its products by mass (it's now at 67 percent); 100 percent third-party audit coverage of its contract factories, with all of them showing improved human rights and environmental performance annually; and using zero restricted or banned substances in any product as revealed in the company's 2008 product materials review.
 
GoLite has expectations of hitting two other goals in the coming months; those are achieving a 30 percent absolute greenhouse gas emissions reduction through targeted emissions reductions strategies (despite a doubling of sales), and achieving "carbon neutral" status through these climate impact reduction efforts plus the use of carbon offsets. GoLite is also working to achieve its final goal of having a 100 percent zero waste headquarters, and last year was 94 percent of the way there.
 
Its efforts are part and parcel of what Coupounas says is its dedication to transforming the outdoor athlete's trail experience with simple and beautiful high-performance apparel gear that lets people experience nature more, with less.
To expand further, GoLite is working diligently to reduce the environmental impact of the products it makes, and part of this work has included a major shift towards the use of EPMs. In the 2010 product line, more than 67 percent of the mass of the materials in its products is now made of EPMs. As part of this, GoLite has replaced virgin, petro-chemical based materials in all of its main pack fabrics and travel luggage with 50 percent Tier 1 recycled nylon, and in all of its sleeping bag collections and some apparel with 100 percent Tier 1 recycled polyester.
 
The impact reduction for recycled textiles varies, but GoLite reports that it has been shown to have up to a 70 percent (for nylon) and up to an 80 percent (for polyester) reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while performing on-par with conventional alternatives.
 
Still, Coupounas notes, there is much ground to cover as GoLite strives to reach its goals. For example, while the company has analyzed the bulk of materials in its products and identified no banned or restricted substances, she notes that toxics are also a key impact area where the company has less visibility, especially in "fringe" materials such as fabric coatings and manufacturing carriers. "We intend to dig deeper and target improvements in this area in the years ahead," she says.
 
"We know that the journey to true sustainability is a long one, so we're dedicated to making progress day by day. For us, there is no 'finish line.' We'll set aggressive reduction targets every year, stay abreast of the latest technologies available, explore many alternative business processes and models, share and learn from others, work collaboratively within and outside our industry to improve the standards and outcomes of all companies, make many hard decisions, and never lose sight of the goal," she concludes.

 
The bike rack at GoLite's headquarters in Boulder, Colorado reflects the company's values, where employees are actively encouraged to use alternative transportation through participation in Bike to Work Day, Week and Month, a bike-friendly office, recognizing Commuter(s) of the Year with cash awards, and providing cash incentives for selecting more energy-efficient modes of travel. For every 10 times an employee bikes, walks or runs to and from the office from home, GoLite gives that person $10 for a "free" lunch. Other alternative means of transportation such as public transport, ride share, motorcycle and hybrid vehicle are given partial credit towards the ten points.

Every year, the GoLite team is human powering itself more than 15,000 miles to and from work, saving more than 650 gallons of gasoline, and preventing more than six tons of carbon emissions. More than 75 percent of GoLite's staff engaged in at least one form of alternative transportation in 2008, and 20 percent of employees are regular alternative commuters.
 
 
 
Hanna Andersson
Self-Nominated
 
Thinking green is at heart really about thinking lean, which is a sensibility that is built into the very DNA of Hanna Andersson. The children's wear company, founded by Gun and Tom Denhart, is named after Gun's grandmother, and it didn't just take her name, but her spirit too. Hanna Andersson adhered to the Swedish tradition of choosing the best quality she could find and using those purchases for a long, long time.
 
The company today continues in those thrifty and quality-focused traditions, using motion sensor lights so electricity is never wasted, converting paper manuals to electronic versions, and using recycled paper. For years, Hanna Andersson has been producing organic cotton clothing for children.  
 
"Our organic cotton program started in 2002 with our long johns and was so well received by our customers that we expanded our offering almost each year," says Adam Stone, president and CEO of the company.
 
"Our hope is to be able to offer as many pure organic cotton 'next to skin' Hannas as we can. In addition, over 60 percent of all Hannas are certified by Oeko-Tex Standard 100, which means they're tested for over 100 harmful substances using strict European standards," Stone says.
 
The company has produced nearly 4 million pure organic cotton "Hannas" including turtlenecks, underwear, boxy tees, baby jeepers, wiggle pants, cardigans and zippers, and this year alone will sell more than 2 million Oeko-Tex certified Hannas.
 
Organic cotton is just one example of the care that the company takes to make sure that its production processes and the products themselves are not only healthier for the earth but for the people who use them. In efforts to make its popular backpacks more eco-friendly for children, for example, the new backpack program launching Fall 2010 will be PVC-free, except for the rolling bag. Some components (the plastic corner guards on the rolling bag) still have plastic but after extensive review of every component of every bag the company replaced any components that it could with PVC-free parts.
 
Hanna Andersson is getting greener by focusing on smart materials and energy use throughout its corporate headquarters. Its office building uses electricity created by wind power, from PGE; it has used low-VOC paint throughout and installed fluorescent lighting to save energy. Office supplies are recycled, and items that are purchased are made from recycled materials. Printing is done on recycled paper that is processed chlorine free and manufactured with 100 percent renewable energy.
 
If there's a way to reduce waste, Hanna is on it. When departments were re-organized and offices moved, furniture was recycled, cleaned and re-used, with all unwanted furniture donated to a local charity. In the kitchens, the company utilizes regular dishware, and recycled paper towels that are dispensed through an automatic dispenser that is set to shoot out a small sheet; there are also dish towels.
 
The company has an eye for those details that make a big difference, in part because of its internal "green team" that each year is charged with initiating a new sustainability goal toward which its employees strive. It has recycled cans as part of a "Cans for Kids" charitible program and sets goals for employees such as eliminating the use of plastic water bottles. In what might win its own award for most original sustainable idea, last year employees gave up individual garbage cans for a community can on each floor, which the company says reduced waste by one-third.
 
At the retail level, the company holds a "hanna me down" promotion for two weeks each year that encourages customers to bring in their gently worn Hanna apparel as a donation. They receive 20 percent off new purchases and the donated clothing goes to a non-profit for children in need.  "Our customers at Hanna care about the communities they live in.  We work and live in these communities also," Stone says, recalling what founder Gun Denhart  always used to say: "You need to make a profit to stay in business, but you also need to give back to the community."
 
In Hanna's view, sustainability is as much a part of the fabric of the company as the cotton that goes into its apparel. It is woven through every building, department, employee and customer, making a difference inside and outside of the company.

 
 
 
Intradeco Apparel
Self-Nominated
 
Intradeco Apparel is a family owned business that has stayed in the hands of its founders going on three generations.

Steve Varon, executive vice president of sustainability at Intradeco Apparel, who joined the company when it bought his business, DanaUndies, says that the founder well understood, early on, that the world's resources are limited, that people should be treated with grace and that the earth should be watched over with a careful eye for future generations - values that he says are still core to the way the company does business.
 
The founder believed, like American forester and conservationist Mollie Beattie, who is quoted on the company's website, that "in the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it's unenvironmental it is uneconomical. That is the rule of nature."
 
Increasingly, it is also the rule of Walmart, and that's something that Intradeco knows well as one of its suppliers, and also the winner of Walmart's Supplier of the Year Award for sustainability for two years running, (since the award's inception), for initiatives that range from its use of organic cotton and Unifi's Repreve recycled polyester to its use of biodegradable bags, recycled boxes and energy efficient buildings.
 
Additionally, as part of efforts to help Walmart and Sam's Club close the loop of their supply chain waste, Intradeco has partnered with Walmart and Sustain LLC on "The Re-Generation Project," an initiative to regenerate cotton and fabric waste into recycled yarns that are then made into new products for Walmart and Sam's Club.
 
Intradeco is a vertical manufacturer of fashion basics and thermal underwear to major retailers across North America, producing more than 1 million units weekly.  Through CAFTA, it ships duty-free Certified raw bales of organic cotton from around the world to its HILCASA spinning mill in El Salvador, where it produces duty-free 100 percent organic cotton yarn.
 
Its proximity to the U.S. market allows for short lead times and also minimizes its carbon footprint relative to distribution into North America. The company has the capacity to manufacture up to 1 million sustainable units monthly at its facilities.
 
As it strives toward zero waste and energy efficiency, the company has implemented a myriad of sustainable processes. For example, its fabric dyeing processes are powered by energy from run-off steam and hot water, a process that saves 800,000 gallons of fuel oil annually. As part of its recycling practices, it sells its cotton bales wrap for agricultural purposes; the wraps are used to maintain humidity in trees, and disintegrate after one year, becoming fertilizer.
 
Noil waste from its combing processes is reused in yarns that are sold to its sock and towel customers, while cotton waste from the opening/cleaning and carding process is sold to a recycler that manufactures mops and hammocks.
 
Varon, who has been involved in sustainability for many years and founded one of the first solar-energy companies in the Northeast during the '70s, says that one of the biggest challenges to sustainability is the lack of standardization that goes along with the exploratory nature of innovating sustainable practices. Although certifying bodies exist, they do not all have the same prerequisites. To move forward, says Varon, it's vital that the global sustainable movement shares its sustainable best practices, as it's in everyone's best interests to do so.
 
In summing up the efforts the company has made to be sustainable, Varon notes that while some initiatives are "quick and easy," others do involve risk and a lot of hard work. "Sustainability has to be sustainable," he says, "and by that I mean it has to cause positive effects in the company which can be applied in the long run."

 
 
 
NIKE, Inc.
Nominated by: Maersk
 
Nike has achieved the kind of iconic status in American (and global) culture that most brands can only dream of. For people of a certain age, to think Nike is to picture basketball great Michael Jordan flying to the hoop or remember Bo Jackson demonstrating all that he knows to a Bo Diddley blues number.
 
On the heels of those marketing coups, the '90s saw the launch of the new retail Niketown experience and the signing of a number of relative unknowns, among them a promising young golfer named Tiger Woods, and a talented emerging cyclist named Lance Armstrong.
 
But not all of Nike's moves at that time were as prominently on display as those of its winning athletes and retail successes. While Nike's omnipresent Swoosh and its charge to "just do it" have inspired generations of folks to hit the trails, courts and mats, Nike itself has been busy at work nurturing that ethos inside its four walls to build not only a better product and brand image but also a better business, where growth goes hand in hand with meaningful global change.
 
Some of the earliest seeds of Nike's devotion to sustainability were sown with the launch of its Environmental Action Team in 1995, and since then the company's focus on everything from raw materials selection to product design to sourcing location to transport of its products has been transformed by virtue of examining these segments of the supply chain through the lens of sustainability.
 
What's particularly notable about "green" philosophy at Nike is that it has permeated the entire business, not as one specific goal to check off but as the spark of innovation behind the entire supply chain and the people that run it. To put it another way, sustainability is what makes the company tick.
 
Indeed, Nike Considered, originally a "green" product line, is now the philosophy that suffuses the entire brand. "It's about considering your choices and considering their impact," says Lorrie Vogel, general manager of Considered, who explains that the company has focused on giving its employees tools to make it easy to take a sustainable approach to the business.
 
Designers, for example, work within a system - the Considered Index - that evaluates the choices they make in real-time, assigning each a number value by grading on a range of issues including the energy and water use required to manufacture using a specific raw material, waste related to pattern efficiency, and so forth. The system eliminates the need for designers to conduct arduous case-by-case research into individual scenarios, but at the same time gradually builds their knowledge base such that designs are increasingly built from the ground up with a sustainable framework, moving the company ever closer to its goals of reducing the company footprint and achieving 100 percent closed-loop systems for all of its materials, says Vogel.
 
Already, in just five years, for example, the company has increased its use of recycled polyester 15-fold, from 3,000 garments in 2004 to 5.5 million in 2009, and this year will outfit the various teams for the World Cup with jerseys that represent a pinnacle of achievement for the company relative to high performance and low environmental impact - approximately 13 million plastic bottles will not go to landfills because of the line's development. 
 
Its focus on energy saving measures has made Nike's office buildings more energy efficient than 75 percent of other U.S. office buildings, says Sarah Severn, director of stakeholder mobilization; additionally, the company has partnered with a local utility in Laakdal, Belgium, to power its distribution center using the power from six windmills.
 
These are just a few of its initiatives. And beyond its four walls, the company has partnered with multiple NGOs to develop climate change agendas that among other goals would encourage the creation of incentives, like the one the company enjoys in Belgium, to use alternate sources of energy in the United States. Nike is a founding member of BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Change) and a participant in the Clean Cargo Working Group. The company also works closely with its own factory partners to reduce energy use and other waste.
 
Nike is also a founding member of the recently developed GreenXchange, a forum for sharing intellectual property and other innovations, such as Nike's patented air-bag technology, which cushions the foot without allowing the escape of nitrogen gas. This could have environmental benefits for other products, such as tires, and the GreenXchange would allow Nike to license the technology selectively to non-competing companies.
 
Its Considered ethos has made its impact even on the company language, says Vogel, recalling a designer's response to a proposal at a recent meeting as: "that's an inconsiderate product." It's an odd way to refer to an inanimate object, but it's reflective of how deeply embedded the sustainability mindset has become in the culture of the company.

Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at jspeer@apparelmag.com.

 

POST A COMMENT

RATE THIS CONTENT (5 Being the Best)

12345
Current rating: 2.1 (18 ratings)

MOST READ STORIES

topicsMore >

APPAREL EVENTS

2015 Apparel West